Former teachers, administrators and students came together Feb. 8 to celebrate the 40-year milestone of West Orange High School. Six of the eight living principals — Joe Worsham, Gary Preisser, Mike Armbruster, Dan Buckman, James Larsen and current principal Doug Szcinski — were in attendance.
Prior to the program in the auditorium, a dinner was held in the media center for the school's former teachers and staff, who expressed joy upon seeing old friends.
Following the dinner, everyone met in the auditorium to hear from special guests from Orange County Public Schools and see performances by WO's AFJROTC Drill Team, Warriorettes Dance Team, Jazz Band, Bel Canto Choir and Drama Troupe 1983.
“Those early years had the magic that made West Orange.” – Former Principal Joe Worsham.
The principals shared a few memories of their time as a Warrior during the ceremony, too.
Worsham, an original teacher at West Orange, remembers how it felt when the air-conditioner didn’t work at the windowless campus, and he recalled the shooting death of Principal Ray Screws in 1977. Worsham is proud of the school he once led, which continues to instill excellence with teachers who care.
“Those early years had the magic that made West Orange,” he said.
Preisser said he was blessed as a principal to include the students of Winter Garden, Ocoee and Pine Hills and the sense of community at the school. He was the leader when a tornado struck Winter Garden in February 1998, and he opened the school as a Red Cross shelter for a week.
Armbruster, his wife, Sandi, who works at the school, and their daughter, Jennifer, are all West Orange graduates. He remembers playing soccer as a student and later serving as soccer coach.
“A lot of what I do today I learned from Gary (Preisser),” Armbruster said.
He also admitted to digging a hole at the 50-yard line of the football field, before it was changed to synthetic turf, and burying a time capsule that included a Class of 1979 T-shirt, a shirt from his last year as principal and a letter to God. Little did he know that two years later, under Buckman’s leadership, the grass would be removed to make way for the artificial turf.
Buckman called Armbruster and asked him what he should do with the time capsule. It was reburied at the 50-yard line.
Buckman helped design the new school and served there upon completion.
He said Karen Whiddon, one of the original teachers, will be in his heart forever for one simple act: When he first arrived at WO, she asked him not to put his desk in the same place where Ray Screws had sat when he was shot and killed by an assistant principal in 1977.
Larsen was principal when the school received its first A rating in the state. In 2012, he handed a diploma to his son when he graduated.
“This is a family; it’s home,” Larsen said. “(When you take over as principal), you stand on the shoulders of those who went before you.”
Szcinski has guided West Orange into the 21st century by introducing laptops to students and providing instruction digitally. He will turn 40 — the same age as the school — later this year. He is grateful to be at an institution with as much school and community spirit as West Orange.
“The people who graced West Orange are the ones who carried on the tradition,” he said.
Of the four remaining principals, Lester Dabbs died in 2015, Screws died in 1977, Tony Krapf is teaching math in North Carolina and will retire in April after 52 years in education, and Sarah Jane Turner lives in Orlando.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].